Tagstudioveena

Reflecting on Fundamentals

A lot has changed in my dance practice in the last year. Without access to a pole I am in a position to discover other ways to dance, to move, to create, and to express myself. More recently, however, I am finding that underlying all of my new discoveries on lyra, silks, yoga, chair dance, and even life modelling, is a layer of fundamental movements.

In many ways I am a beginner again. Five years of pole dance prepped my body for other aerial arts but each apparatus requires new techniques and new revision. I’ve found myself in a process of coming full circle and actually enjoying relearning many foundations of movement.

Noel Burch talks about the learning cycle offering four stages of learning. Rather than thinking of learning as a liner process – not knowing —> knowing. the four stages can be viewed in a cycle. This allows you to adapt to new skills and information that may support or refute what you may know already. Your skills in relation to pole dance and aerial arts do not exist in a vacuum, putting you forever in motion of learning, relearning, revisiting, and mastering.

“The Four Stages of Learning suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.” (Wiki)

Let’s think about this in relation to a pole class. The first time you ever walked into a studio you were probably in a state of unconscious incompetence – unaware of the skills and concepts you were about to learn. After a few classes and watching some inspirational dancers, you may progress to conscious incompetence – that overwhelming feeling where there is so much to think about when doing pole moves, everything feels way harder than it looks, and the inevitable question, “when will I ever straddle?”

Gradually, through persistence and regular training, some skills become less difficult. You feel consciously competent – pole dance offers you so much joy and you find endless street poles to show off your new tricks!

The fourth part of the cycle is unconscious competence. An area where things have become familiar allowing muscle memory to take over. You can spin, invert, and dance with a sense of grace and letting go.

Learning does not stop here though. In my case, I took up lyra and silks and although I still remember how to straddle, I have had to consciously revisit the basics. Assuming that my pole dance experience was going to let me just start doing crazy advanced aerial hoop tricks was quickly leading me down the road of developing bad habits.

For instance, knee hangs. Very similar to our trusty outside leg hang in pole, but also very different. What muscles should I be engaging to hold me up? When placing my leg, where should the contact points be?

Interestingly, instead of be being frustrated as I waver between conscious incompetence and conscious competence, I have found that I am really enjoying the process of relearning. And my body is thanking me for it, remaining injury free, and continuing to become stronger and more flexible. I am also learning how to make moves less painful as I revisit how to engage my glutes, and hamstrings rather than just trust that my bent knee will stop me from falling to the ground.

I have found support in instructors like StudioVeena who stress the importance of learning proper technique and focusing on fundamentals. Veena’s Teaching Manual is a fabulous resource for both students and instructors.

She states –

“As instructors we need to remember that every level of pole dance can be fun, improve physical fitness, and provide emotional freedom and expression”

Returning to the basics does not just have to be repetitive drills and boring shapes. Learning about muscle engagement, correct alignment, contact points, and how to use your breath should all be part of each and every move you learn on the pole, or other apparatus. Taking your time to learn slowly, also offers you space to listen to your own body. How did your shoulders respond to that pole hold? Do you need to work on coordination and balance to refine your fireman spin?

My journey into training my goofy side was probably the first step I made towards revisiting the basics. So many pole holds and spins were now muscle memory (unconsciously competent), but to successfully complete the move on the other side meant re-entering the cycle and starting again, albeit with a bit more strength and a lot more knowledge.

Where do you find yourself in the learning cycle? If you have just completed a course or term in a pole studio, you may be resting a the top of the cycle – unconsciously competent. Enjoy it! Fly with freedom and relish in your new skills and learning. But also be aware that as a new term starts the process of learning will start again. Frustrations may brew as you feel like a beginner again but strong foundations are your key to further success!

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 5: Foam Rolling

I first started foam rolling after subscribing to StudioVeena who recommended it for use before stretching.

In her tutorials she would outline how to roll the large muscles in the legs before flexibility training, as a way to increase blood flow to the muscles and loosen up knots and tight areas before working on regular stretching sequences.

Physios and massage therapists sell a variety of foam rollers and spiky balls of all shapes, sizes, and firmness depending on how they will be used. As well as being a great asset to your flexibility training, foam rolling can work wonders on DOMS, and be generally soothing for an active body. Chunky rollers are great for larger muscles. Spiky balls are perfect for getting into smaller muscle groups in the back and shoulders, or for massaging the forearms after training.

When choosing your foam roller, keep in mind your tolerance during a regular massage. The softer the roller the softer the pressure, and the firmer or spikier the roller, the more it will dig in to those tight spots. A deep tissue experience can be effective but you don’t want to be in so much pain that you can’t commit to rolling up and down your leg!

My preference has been a hard, smooth roller that I picked up at the local Clark Rubber supplier! It’s the perfect density to use everyday, before stretching or after training, large enough to roll my hamstrings, quads, and glutes, but also small enough to throw in the car if I need to bring it along to a comp or showcase.

Foam rolling is a “self-myofascial release technique” that works by massaging the fascia and muscle fibers. Research suggests,

“Self-myofascial release causes an increase in short-term flexibility that lasts for >10 minutes but does not affect athletic performance acutely. Self-myofascial release may also be able to increase flexibility long-term, in programs of >2 weeks.”

Sounds pretty good right?

Here are some photos of how I use my roller at home. You probably need a space similar to what you use for yoga to make sure you can lay down and roll in various directions. It’s a great practice to turn into a habit though, and once you know what you are doing, it’s easy to incorporate into your day, even while watching television!

I like to start on my legs and glutes, remembering to roll up and down the entire muscle and at various angles.

Foam Rolling glutes

 

While sitting on the foam roller, I angle my body to either side, rolling in the direction of the muscle fibers. By placing my foot on the floor or lifting it up, I can change how much of my body weight I am putting in to the motion. Listen to your own body as you roll, slow down on the “sweet spots” – those trigger points that seem to be more painful than others – or even pause for up to 30-60 seconds and you will find the tension begins to release.

Foam Roller HamstringsFoam Roller Calves

My roller is long enough for me to do my hamstrings, calves and quads side by side. Though once again, I can change the amount of pressure I’m applying by rolling them one at a time or leaning into¬† it at a different angle.

Foam Roller Quads

Fellow polers also roll their ITB. I find this incredibly painful but sometimes have the nerve to work up to it, rolling over from during my quads to catch it as I roll down my outer thigh.

Foam Roller Adductors

Rolling your adductors, or inner thigh, can be a bit tricky, however those with good hip flexibility may find this easier. Try and cover as much of the muscle as possible and don’t forget to slow down or pause over any trigger points.

Foam Rolling Stretch Foam Rolling Forearms

Recently I have been rolling my forearms and upper back and then using the roller to perform and overstretch for my shoulders. After rolling up and down my forearms, with the large foam roller and a tennis ball, I sink back into a child’s pose with my arms resting on the roller. Breathing into the stretch, I try to sink my chest down to the floor, feeling the stretch along my upper arms, down my lats under my shoulder, and across my shoulder blades. Coming out of the stretch I try to curl my spine in the opposite direction, remembering to breath as I come out slowly.

Don’t forget to drink lots of water post foam rolling session. Any type of massage increases blood flow around the area and staying hydrated will help the lymphatic system and circulatory system do it’s job, reducing the chance that you’ll feel groggy and need a nap after your session.

If you have a foam roller at home I’d love to see your favourite techniques and stretches! Post them here or tag me in your photos online!

A Story about Stretching

2015-12-06 11.29.25For anyone involved in the pole dance community, you would have had a thousand involved conversations about flexibility and stretching. Studios everywhere offer conditioning classes to compliment your dance practice, and most people’s pole goal list is dotted with dreams for flat splits and bendy backs. After a few months of dancing you may have also amassed a stash of foam rollers, thera bands, and spiky balls to support you on your journey to flexiness!

 

Coming from a yoga background, I already felt I understood the benefits of increased mobility. But it wasn’t until I started pole that I really focused on stretching and learning about muscle groups and how I could work towards my flexibility goals.

StudioVeena was my first inroad into dedicated stretching in 2013. She still offers tutorials for front and middle splits and back flex and encourages foam rolling as part of a warm up to increase blood flow and support muscles relaxation. The tutorials are between 20-30min, the perfect length to fit into my schedule. After riding home from work, I was already well warmed up and could foam roll and then stretch before dinner. Doing this nearly everyday, I was making amazing gains on my front splits.

I also purchased Delavier’s Stretching Anatomy book, which offered 130 stretching exercises covering the entire body. The diagrams and clear details about how each stretch targeted different muscles really helped me articulate to myself how each stretch was benefiting my body. I could also begin to see how different stretches related to different pole moves, discerning how a strong and stable Butterfly pole pose would require strength and mobility in my back muscles, chest, shoulder, hips and glutes.

It was around 2014 that I started to learn about the difference between dynamic stretching and static stretching. My yoga classes and the StudioVeena series at the time were using static stretches. Cleo had just released her Rockin’ Legs N Abs DVD and I was excited to spice things up.

As well as a being a high intensity warm up and cardio challenge, Cleo worked through exercises for dynamic flex with lots of high front kicks, side kicks and back kicks. The women on the DVD are incredibly flexible and strong and inspirational in their range of motion. It was a great full body workout, but I have found that I don’t use it as much as I had hoped.

Sometimes dynamic stretching gets a back rap, the concern that if you bounce through a stretch or kick your up into a split without the proper strength to hold it there, you risk injury.

Personally, I am very careful with dynamic stretching. It’s important to remember that pole, like yoga, is a body work practice, and you need to listen to your body. After tearing both hamstrings, my physio advised that to reduce the chance of re-injury, I should take it slow with my tendons. If you have grown up with dance and ballet, your muscles and tendons may respond differently. I’m a massive advocate for “it’s never too late to start” but please remember that if your body is older and you don’t have a background in physical activity, diving in to the Rockin’ Legs N Abs video may be too dynamic for your body to handle.

It’s been a long road to recovery after my hamstring injuries. Physically it has taken nearly two years for my hamstrings to feel like stretching again. Emotionally it has also taken nearly two years to work through the fear that I might tear them again too. Attending a flexibility class or even just stretching at home used to bring up a lot of anxiety about damaging my body and I would get flash backs from the moment of injury. Thankfully, time away from stretching my splits allowed me to focus on other goals – back flex, strength tricks and dance flow have been the main focus on my dance practice for the last 2 years.

I still dream about the splits, and my feet touching my head in a back bend! Recently, a friend told me about the Easy Flexibility series and after doing one video with her I bought a split stretching series. I was pleased to find the videos offering a balance between static and dynamic stretches and stemming from an awareness of anatomy that made sense to me. It is also refreshing to be able to complete a video and not be sore the next day. I have been able to get back into a routine of stretching everyday which is great to make progress towards my flexibility goals but also supports range of motion and general well being.

Last month, Indi Pole Wear also released a stretching guide for pole dancers
outlining a sequence of 22 stretches for back and hip mobility. The stretches are familiar (cobra pose, pigeon etc) but also show how you can use a chair or pole to correct form or increase the stretch. The authors also comment on how important your breathing is to promote a relaxed stretch. I’d recommend the sequence to anyone starting out on their stretching journey but like all tutorials that can be used without the spot of a trained instructor, be aware off what your body is telling you in each exercise and take it slow.

Stretching can be a wonderful practice to do on your own, even meditative and insightful as you engage with the process and movements of your own body. But when pushing yourself to get flexier, if you don’t have a teacher to correct your form or remind you to breath, you do run the risk of injury.

There will be a summary of this story in the Cross Training Series, including tutorials of my favourite stretches, as I genuinely believe stretching is beneficial for your pole practice. But I hope that this story inspires you start or return to stretching, either in a class at your studio or at home with one of the methods I have used. If you have a great stretching practice I’d love to hear about it too! Please comment below or get in touch with me through Instagram or Facebook.

Safe stretching!

Bodywork

my bodyHaving always been involved in some form of physical activity, be it now pole, yoga, or athletics and hockey back when I was younger, I have gained a fairly thorough but basic knowledge of anatomy.

I know that the hamstrings are the large muscles at the back of my thigh. I know that I have calves, quads, three types of glutes, hip flexors, psoas, etc. etc.

 

In more recent times I have learned about fascia, the tissue that is almost like a second skin surrounding the muscles, tendons, and joints. Fascia can be released through massage and foam rolling, which is an amazing way to begin stretching or soothe muscles after a performance!

I know that protein helps you build muscles, and severe DOMS can keep you away from another workout for days!

But it wasn’t until I tore both hamstrings (a misadventure from 2013), and started doing my own research into flexibility and how the muscles, tendons, and joints function collectively, that I began to understand how my body works. And, perhaps more importantly, how my body needs to work together.

Take this exercise from StudioVeena (one of my favourite forums for all things pole related!).

Veena explains:

“This exercise may not look like much but it’s important and helpful, in understanding the scapula and how to properly engage during training for pole or aerial work. If you are new to this exercise the movement may be very small, the more you practice the better control you’ll have. Avoid raising the shoulders up the ears, keep them down and trapezius relaxed.”

After you Google where your scapula and trapezius are, please take heed of another avoidance warning.

Avoid flaring the ribs, articulating the motion from the shoulders and not from the chest and back.

It took me about 5 re-tapes to finally get a consistent shot of me doing the exercise properly. I was transfixed! Why did my version not look like Veena’s? And after unpacking the motion, turns out it was rib flare. Caused by what? By not activating through my abdominal muscles.

This was a revelation to me that my shoulders were connected to my abs! It makes sense now, of course I need to stabilise my torso as I articulate my shoulders back and forth. I need to keep balanced! But my body also seems to have the bad habit of flaring my ribs and arching through the lower back, keeping me balanced, but compensating for each other’s bias.

And this is the crux! I could articulate my shoulders further backwards if I allow the movement to continue through my chest and abdominals. This movement when viewed from the side would create a curve, starting at the top of my back, coming forward over my sternum, continuing across flared ribs, and exiting my body as it arches through the lower back.

But a more stable movement, and one that will actually support shoulder strength and mobility, is one that isolates the movement to the area of the shoulders and upper back. For now, it may look less impressive. But for the longevity of my body (particularly my lower back!) it’s a step in the right direction.